Field Trip: Obstacle Course in the Sky

 

Too often these days, parents sit on the sidelines while kids have all the fun, idly checking our phones and chatting with other parents.

But when I decided to take my 8-year-old twins to the Tree to Tree Adventure Park, a dizzying aerial obstacle and zipline course, near Hagg Lake in unincorporated Washington County, I signed myself up, too. Partly, I figured if the kids were going to be 15 feet up trying to navigate across a log suspended in between two trees, I should be there to calm any frazzled nerves and make sure that their safety harnesses were properly hooked in. But mostly, it was because I’d like to think that parenting has only muted, not vanquished, my inner daredevil. Here was a chance to prove it.

When we arrived, it was clear that I wasn’t the only parent who’d had that idea. There were grown-ups and kids zipping happily around the six different courses, including kids as young as 6 or 7. (For younger and/or more timid kids, there’s a series of tree forts, connected by enclosed, only slightly wobbly bridges that lead to a more low-slung zipline. For the littlest of the littles, there is a standard swing set.)

Before you can start navigating the courses, you need to get geared up. Everyone gets fitted with an elaborate harness, including a system of locking carabiners that keep you tethered to safety lines at all times. The carabiners took some figuring out, because you need to reset them before each and every element on the course, but that’s good — it forces kids to slow down and be extra-deliberate.

My very agile son picked it up immediately, flew through the two low-to-the-ground, barely wobbly and very short “training courses” that are offered and took off like a shot to one of the higher, more technical courses. Before I knew it, he was gone amongst the trees. My daughter was more tentative, daunted by her gear and nervous about being falling distance from the ground. To be honest, so was I: I knew in my head that I was hooked in, and the worst that could happen was that I would dangle until I could find my footing. But it wasn’t easy to translate that to my racing heart.

Elly did love the whoosh of the zipline, though, and so she and I stayed on the lower, easier courses while Ben forged ahead. The next thing I knew, he was navigating his way across suspended, see-sawing, zig-zagging balance beams and Indiana Jones-esque bridges, Tarzan swings and tightropes. There was one hairy moment when he didn’t get enough of a push-off on a zipline, and dangled midair, but a helpful staff member scrambled up the course and rescued him within a matter of minutes. He topped off that particular zipline with a hand-over-hand, Rambo-inspired haul to the finish — no easy task, but I like it when an activity challenges my kids to think on their feet (or, in this case, their hands).

If you’re coming with two or more kids, consider adding on the cost of the side-by-side zipline race, which is a long glide to a picture-perfect finish. There are also plenty of hang-out spaces, including picnic tables and a firepit, and an onsite vendor selling hot dogs and other snacks. Do note though that the only bathrooms are porta-potties, so this may not be the most suitable outing for kids who are still in diapers.

Tree to Tree is constantly expanding — staffers told us about plans to build a ninja obstacle course, with on-the-ground challenges. Staff there recommended spending at least three hours for the course, and they’re right. It seemed like a long time, but it flew by, and Ben, at least, begged to stay longer. That long stretch of time helps justify the price, too — it’s $43 for kids ages 9 and under and $52 for ages 10 and up. Reservations need to be made in advance, and you should fill out the online waiver before you arrive, as there is no cell service inside the park.

As for me, I didn’t in the end have the guts to try out the highest, most precarious courses. But I got in there and gave it my all, and it felt pretty good to be in the mix, not watching from below, for once.

Julia Silverman is PDX Parent’s editor. She can now say definitively that she does not ever want to go skydiving or bungee-jumping. Sorry, inner daredevil. Better luck next time.

Sky-high Thrills

Here are a few other locations in and around Portland to get your ropes-course jones on:

Mount Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl
Their 5-bridge tree-top tour comes with unbeatable views of the Central Cascades.
Must be at least 7 years old.

Pumpkin Ridge Zip Tours
Ages 8 and up can take 2-hour tours on this network of suspension
bridges and ziplines that are anywhere from 15 to 120 feet in the air, over Washington County.

Skamania Lodge Zip Line Tour
Guides are with you at all times for this 2.5 hour excursion, which includes seven ziplines and three skybridges.
Participants must weigh at least 60 pounds.

Julia Silverman

Julia Silverman

Julia is a former Associated Press Oregon education and politics reporter, who has also worked as a web editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting. She likes reading, cooking, hiking, swimming, and being left alone at the end of the day to watch some pretty bad TV. Her twins, Ben and Elly, like making trouble.
Julia Silverman

Latest posts by Julia Silverman (see all)